DARPA’s 'Gremlins' Fall Short in Test Flight

The drones completed their missions, but the aircraft sent to retrieve them missed by inches.

The goal of DARPA's Gremlins program is to launch four unmanned aerial vehicles in the air and recover them — in the air — all within 30 minutes.

According to the agency, these capabilities could dramatically expand the applicability of unmanned air vehicles in conflict situations. They call the UAVs "Gremlins" and they are developed by Dynetics, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Leidos.

DARPA recently completed their third test flight, and while it had its successes, it wasn't without a few failures. 

The Gremlins were the focus of a recent flight test series that started on Oct. 28. For the test, three X-61A Gremlins Air Vehicles were deployed above Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. Each GAV flew for more than two hours, validating all autonomous formation flying positions and safety features. Then, a C-130 aircraft attempted to retrieve the GAVs in the air, and while it came within inches of success, the Gremlins ultimately had to parachute to the ground. It wasn't for a lack of effort — the team made nine attempts to engage the GAVs to the C-130's docking bullet, but the relative movement was more dynamic than expected.

The Gremlins can be equipped with sensors and other mission-specific technologies and be launched from various types of military aircraft. After retrieval, the hope is to have them transported back to the ground, where crews could prepare them for another mission within 24 hours.

Next, the team will pore over the hours of data, including aerodynamic interactions between the docking bullet and GAV. Efforts are already underway to update models and designs, and conduct additional flights and retrieval attempts in a fourth deployment next spring.

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